‘Heart Museum’ by Durga Chew-Bose

The heart of Durga Chew-Bose’s book of essays Too Much and Not the Mood is the first and longest piece, “Heart Museum.”

A reader will notice in the index that this essay is 92 pages long and wonder both how they will get through and how (and if) the writer will pull off such a length without losing her readers’ attention and focus.

That’s the most startling thing about the piece: in an age when our attention spans barely last a few pages before we might check our phones or flip restlessly through the pages of the book we’re reading (even if we love it, it’s just the energy of our time) to see where the essay or chapter ends so that we may anticipate our commitment and when we’ll get our reward, “Heart Museum” forces you to pay attention, to keep reading, both out of sheer curiosity of what exactly the writer is getting at or might do with the essay, and precisely because no matter how many pages you flip you won’t see the end so you have nothing left to do but read. And that’s surprisingly freeing.

Around twenty pages in, Chew-Bose writes,

Isn’t it fun to read a sentence that races ahead of itself? That has the effect of stopping short–of dirt and cutaway rocks tumbling down the edge of the cliff, alerting you to the drop?

That is exactly what it feels like to read “Heart Museum.” You’re sitting in Starbucks reading, and you don’t understand why your heart is starting to race as you try to keep up with the words. You want to keep going though you don’t always know why, especially if there’s a tangent that’s not for you. Still, you want to see where she goes with her observations and questions.

“We’re the type to ask too many questions–an irritating amount, really. But who ask without claim or exigency. The want is the want and it goes on like that.”

At the end, I was filled with admiration at what the writer does with her essay. She brings together seemingly meaningless and scattered bits and makes the reader interested in them because of the energy of the pace. She connects the end of the piece to the beginning in a way you couldn’t expect when you’re wondering halfway through how she’ll manage to finish and make it all work as you’re starting to realize the point of the essay is to create a museum of the heart, any heart it honestly doesn’t matter who it belongs to, because you understand her hope:

That awareness isn’t merely a stopgap; that it develops a tally.

 

Today's read. "The want is the want and it goes on like that." Durga Chew-Bose

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The rest of the pieces in the book do slow down but also have bright moments, like the short “Miserable” and the lovely “Summer Pictures,”  though the success of the pace in the first essay stays with the reader until the last page.

For me, Chew-Bose’s strength is writing when there’s apparently no point or focus until she reminds us  “how crucial it is to preserve a sense of the special,” along with beautiful, telling sentences like:

“My skin is warm. It does not cool. The heat is in the seams.”

“…I tasted city smog outside another city’s airport and knew right then that I was a city kid.”

With the holidays and the end of 2017 approaching, Too Much and Not the Mood is a good read as we begin to ask ourselves what the year has meant, or as Chew-Bose asks in her “Heart Museum:”

“Aren’t we all overrun by the blotting-out that is inevitable? How every year we claim that this year went by faster. What was realized? Did I connect? If I’m mostly–often only–the sum of what I’ve noticed, should I keep better track?”

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Weekend Getaway in Big Bear Lake & Fall in Los Angeles

Since this is the first new post in the newly created section of my blog, “Flight Log,” I’d like to share the inspiration behind it. (Older posts in this section were categorized differently in the past, but I’ve included them here in this redesign as an archive).  

The “Flight Log” section of this blog is inspired by a beautiful book I recently read, and highly recommend, West with the Night by Beryl Markham, the first person to fly nonstop from Europe to America.

The book begins with the name of a place from her flight log, which paints a picture of adventure, exploration, night flights alone over Africa in the 1930s (she was a solo freelance pilot transporting mail, medicine, and people), tents set up in remote areas, and wonder.

She refers to her log throughout the book, and that leads to romantic nostalgia for the reader, nostalgia for long-lost times and places and what might have been.

Though my adventure, travels, and exploration will likely be nowhere near the level of Markham’s, this is my flight log of sorts, a space to gather photography and notes from places I visit and events I attend, and who knows what else.

Here, my log starts with a weekend getaway to Big Bear Lake, two hours east of Los Angeles. The small mountain town (population 5,200) offered a perfect fall retreat, with foliage-lined roads and cooler temperatures. I’m grateful to friends who suggested and planned this getaway. A big group of us rented a cozy home with a great deck, yard, and kitchen (through Airbnb).

Morning in the yard.
Minjay enjoying the new smells.
Golden roads.
We did a short hike at Castle Rock Trail, which my friend recommended. Beautiful views (like the photo on the top of this post).
Loved the pine cones on the ground.
Twilight from the deck of the house we rented.

On Saturday night, I sat on a black wooden rocking chair on the porch, underneath a warm fleece blanket, and looked up at the stars, thousands more than I would normally see in the city. I stared at the shadow of the milky way and remembered stargazing on my balcony in Lebanon when I was fifteen. It brought to mind this sentence I love, written by Noah Hawley in his novel Before the Fall:

What if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave?

 

Morning view.
Farewell walk around the neighborhood.

There’s nothing like being in nature and staring at the night sky that makes you want to live deliberately, to try to create more good, deep moments for your collection.

For me, one way to do that is to make the most of each season. I created a small list of to-dos for myself to appreciate fall in Los Angeles.

1. Fall weekend getaway. √

2. Seek out foliage on hikes and walks with Minjay. √

3. Bake and enjoy pumpkin treats. √

I can recommend Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice bread and muffin mix, pumpkin chocolate chip scones at The Trails Cafe if you’re in Los Angeles, and this great recipe for Pumpkin Fettuccine Alfredo.

4. Seek out different neighborhoods for morning walks with Minjay that have great Halloween decorations. √

Morning walks in October. #morningswithminjay #halloweendecorations #flashesofdelight #happier2017 #santamonica #socal

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5. Go to an event that celebrates all things fall. √

Ever since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve been wanting to go to a live taping, but didn’t get around to it. I finally reserved a spot for a taping on the Universal Studios lot of Home and Family, the morning show on the Hallmark Channel that really goes all in for the seasons. It was fun to watch the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a morning show and check out the decorated set in person.

Kimberly Williams- Paisley with the hosts Debbie Matenopoulos and Mark Steines.
DIY pumpkin goals.

 

What are some ways you make the most of fall where you live?